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Posted: 09 February 2007 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]Does this make it a quorum? Actually even if you could prove your sense data was accurate, you would still have to prove that your mind is correctly interpreting that data.quote]

Some old chestnuts, but ones that may show how the brain ‘perceives’ and can be inaccurate or based on innacuracy, so try them out:

1) Add these figures as fast as possible and without a calculator;

1000 + 40 + 1000 + 30 + 1000 + 20 + 1000 + 10

Ok, now did you get 5000? If you did, try it again with a calculator - you may be surprised…

2) read this paragraph:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

It’s interesting to note that people that use maths (accountants etc) will probably get point (1) to its correct value… The only people that should express difficulty with point (2) would be those that have dyslexia, language or literacy issues…

The point for each experiment is that BOTH experiments are taken through the primary signalling system and then processed as language through a secondary signal (your perception of the signal). Point (1) becomes rather like an optical illusion (but without a visual stimulus) based upon ‘Zeros’ as you attempt to visualise the mathematics involved.

Point (2) is information that is already being produced innacurately via one of your primary signalling systems (sight), but as the sentence itself says ‘the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole’...

Perception is highly fallible across any of the senses (visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory and kinaesthetically) and it is worth pointing out that they can be easily influenced by context or state of situation.

I don’t know if my post has produced more questions than answers, but hope that has at least added to the debate in a productive way.

Many thanks.

Mark L. Lunn

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Posted: 09 February 2007 04:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Excellent, Mark, very interesting. Data about the occular blind spot is another similar example of where the brain does de facto editing of the visual field.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 02:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Yes, of course there are little quirks in the way we perceive the world.  That’s because our brains have to construct a model of the world, and they sometimes take short cuts.  It’s all evolution again—our senses only evolved to be as good as they needed to be in order for us to survive.  But the very fact that we can discover these optical illusions means that we have the means to decide what is “really” happening, right?  smile

Another logical conclusion from this is that there may be all kinds of paranormal beings floating around us all the time which we are unaware of simply because we never bothered to evolve the senses necessary to perceive them.  I would argue, however, that it makes no sense to assume these things exist merely because it is logically possible for them to.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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[quote author=“advocatus”]Yes, of course there are little quirks in the way we perceive the world.  That’s because our brains have to construct a model of the world, and they sometimes take short cuts.  It’s all evolution again—our senses only evolved to be as good as they needed to be in order for us to survive.  But the very fact that we can discover these optical illusions means that we have the means to decide what is “really” happening, right?  smile

Absolutely. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest anything else. The only thing is that it defeats a sort of na憊e empiricist view that says, basically, that nothing is more accurate than sense data, and that sense data is epistemically more secure than theory. To know about the blind spot, we use theory (in particular, theory about an external world) to help show that sense data can be inaccurate.

[quote author=“advocatus”]Another logical conclusion from this is that there may be all kinds of paranormal beings floating around us all the time which we are unaware of simply because we never bothered to evolve the senses necessary to perceive them.  I would argue, however, that it makes no sense to assume these things exist merely because it is logically possible for them to.

Yep. That’s why I’m an atheist and not an agnostic ... about god, paranormal beings, teapots around Saturn, et cetera. But saying I don’t believe in such things isn’t to say that I can prove they don’t exist .... just that I believe it’s unlikely that they do, and at any rate we have no evidence that they do.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Though Doug and I have already agreed to disagree on this one, I still am an agnostic (about a 5 on Dawkins “Agnosticometer”) because I think humans are intrinsically overconfident about our ability to perceive and understand. Our sensory and cognitive aparatus evolved in a specific mileu with built-in limitations, and yet we are constantly saying authoritatively what can and cannot exist (often later proving ourselves wrong through scientific study). A bit more reticence to pronounce on the ultimate nature of reality seems appropriate to me.

That’s not to say any of the stories we make up about what we can’t perceive are especially convincing either. Just because we can’t know for sure doesn’t mean we are entitled to believe what we want. I lean towards atheism because most of the specific things we say about God (responds to intercessory prayer, performs miracles, etc) and the “evidence” we use to prove its existence are unconvincing. But I’m not especially impressed by Dawkins’ Argument from Improbability. It presupposes that the qualitative nature of some creator of the universe must be sufficiently like the real things we can study empirically to allow us to make statements about it. But there is no reason to suppose this is true. Though it seems like cheating when the religious claim God is outside nature and so cannot be expected to conform to the rules of nature that constrain, say, teapots, it is at least logically consistent that this would be true, if any such being existed.

Therfore, while I agree, Advocatus, that “it makes no sense to assume these things exist merely because it is logically possible for them to,” I don’t think this entitles us to pronounce defintively that they do not exist. Bring me specific things God is claimed to do in the world and I may be able to prove they are nonsense by science. But does God exists, could he, what’s he like? I honestly can’t say. Carl Sagan used to say religious myths showed a “poverty of imagination” because they assumed God must be like us (made in his image and all that) and that the Universe must be small, the world recent, etc. True scientific understanding finds much more surprising things when we look in the right ways and with the right tools. But pronouncing the creator of the universe to be highly improbable or almost certainly unreal based on what we can imagine such a being to be like is vulnerable to a similar imaginitive poverty.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 05:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Just a few things here, Brennen, although we can continue to agree to disagree if you like.

:wink:

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]... we are constantly saying authoritatively what can and cannot exist (often later proving ourselves wrong through scientific study). A bit more reticence to pronounce on the ultimate nature of reality seems appropriate to me.

I am explicitly not saying that god can’t exist—that’s what I meant when I said that I couldn’t prove he didn’t exist.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that it is possible that god exists. (At least, I have never seen any convincing argument that his existence is literally impossible).

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]I’m not especially impressed by Dawkins’ Argument from Improbability. It presupposes that the qualitative nature of some creator of the universe must be sufficiently like the real things we can study empirically to allow us to make statements about it. But there is no reason to suppose this is true. Though it seems like cheating when the religious claim God is outside nature and so cannot be expected to conform to the rules of nature that constrain, say, teapots, it is at least logically consistent that this would be true, if any such being existed.

Insofar as what you’re talking is a logical possibility (as you say at the end of the paragraph), I agree, and expect that Dawkins would, as well. It is of course logically possible that god exists outside of nature and totally unlike any of “the real things we study empirically”.

But that is consistent with Dawkins’s argument from improbability. What he’s saying is that this sort of god is improbable, not that it’s impossible. Advocatus’s example of paranormal beings (ghosts, angels, demons, etc.) is entirely to the point here: many people have claimed that such things exist, yet we have no evidence of them. A believer in ghosts could just as well construct an analogue of the argument you just gave, claiming that although we have no direct evidence for ghosts, it is logically possible that they fail to conform to the normal laws of nature and are hence totally unlike any of the real things we study empirically.

Dawkins’s argument from improbability is that we do have experience with normal things that display the sorts of properties claimed of these surpernatural creatures. We have some idea about how they come about. But that knowledge makes their existence supremely unlikely. This isn’t a logical proof, but it is a good argument, it seems to me, and it’s just as good against ghosts and demons as it is against god.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]But pronouncing the creator of the universe to be highly improbable or almost certainly unreal based on what we can imagine such a being to be like is vulnerable to a similar imaginitive poverty.

Well, I try to be careful to say that by “god” I don’t just mean “the creator of the universe”. I mean a personal god who is “the perfectly good, all powerful, all knowing, creator of the universe”.

And by establishing what we mean by god (this isn’t a controversial definition in mainstream theological circles) we are basing the definition of god on what we can imagine.

It is literally meaningless to claim that god exists but is unimaginable, just to take one standard example from esoteric theology. Is it possible that such an unimaginable being exists? It’s not clear that it means anything to say either “yes” or “no” to such a question. What’s the being we’re talking about? We have to use human ideas and concepts whenever we talk about anything.

So, are there things that are greater, bigger, more complex than we will ever be able to fathom? Of course. Will we ever know everything about reality? No. Is it possible that there’s something out there that doesn’t conform to human concepts of god? Yes, but then why call it “god” at all? Tell me what it is, and then we can discuss if it’s really god.

But insofar as we’re discussing whether god exists or not, it is not illicit to simply use the standard human definition. God is a person who is perfectly good, all powerful, all knowing, who created the universe, responds to prayer, judges people when they die, et cetera. And that sort of person almost certainly doesn’t exist.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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But that is consistent with Dawkins’s argument from improbability. What he’s saying is that this sort of god is improbable, not that it’s impossible. Advocatus’s example of paranormal beings (ghosts, angels, demons, etc.) is entirely to the point here: many people have claimed that such things exist, yet we have no evidence of them. A believer in ghosts could just as well construct an analogue of the argument you just gave, claiming that although we have no direct evidence for ghosts, it is logically possible that they fail to conform to the normal laws of nature and are hence totally unlike any of the real things we study empirically…Dawkins’s argument from improbability is that we do have experience with normal things that display the sorts of properties claimed of these surpernatural creatures

I would argue that there is a distinction between what these entities are claimed to be and what they are claimed to do, between their properties and their actions. We can empirically test statements about what effects they may have in the material world. And if the evidence shows (as I think it generally does) that none of these effects ever seem to be supported, this can certainly lead us to great skepticism about the very existence of such supernatural phenomena. We may have to remain technically agnostic about their very existence, since that lies outside the province of empirical study, b ut we can go about our lives assuming they probably aren’t there. I would also claim, though, that the same is true of God. We can study what it supposedly does in the world but not its very existence and probably not the thesis that it created everything. The deistic God is a tough thing to discount, and most of my (admittedly pretty minor) quibbles with Dawkins’ argument center on his point that a created universe should look different from the one we live in and that we can make probability statements about the liklihood of a creator based on how it looks. I don’t find the anthropic principle very potent to dismiss the idea of a creator, and I think he extends the reach of what we know about the material universe to whatmight/must/should be true beyond where it can reasonably go.

Well, I try to be careful to say that by “god” I don’t just mean “the creator of the universe”. I mean a personal god who is “the perfectly good, all powerful, all knowing, creator of the universe”...insofar as we’re discussing whether god exists or not, it is not illicit to simply use the standard human definition. God is a person who is perfectly good, all powerful, all knowing, who created the universe, responds to prayer, judges people when they die, et cetera. And that sort of person almost certainly doesn’t exist.

I still think, as I pointed out in our discussion about agnosticism earlier, that you stack the deck by limiting the definition of God this way. A theistic God is a pretty easy target because empirical study can, and usually does, demonstrate that the interventions such an entity is supposedly making in the world don’t actually happen. A deistic God is harder, and an Einsteinian/Spinoza God harder still, but these latter do have meaning to people. If we want to accomodate the “religious” or “spiritual” impulses people have within humanism, and I think we would be wise to do so because they’re not going away, we can with pretty reasonable justification allow the possibility of these concepts of God, as well as others currently unimagined, though perhaps not unimaginable ones. That is all I mean by agnosticism, and I still think it’s not only logically defensible but a practical and appropriate stance in the real world. Dawkins, Harris, and others often seem to feel that any admission of all but the most minor and technical uncertainty about God gives aid and comfort to the enemy and weakens the moral and intellectual position of secular humanism. I just don’t agree. I certainly think, having so far made it about halfway through God Delusion, that Dawkins book is well-written, insightful, and probably on balance does more good than harm for the cause.  But my quibbles with his strident tone about agnosticism (the references to Neville Chamberlain, the frequent use of the acronym PAP, etc) and his seeming contempt for either the intellect or the moral courage/integrity of those who don’t assert atheism as strongly as he does remain. Philosophically and tactically, I think these are mistakes.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]I still think, as I pointed out in our discussion about agnosticism earlier, that you stack the deck by limiting the definition of God this way. A theistic God is a pretty easy target because empirical study can, and usually does, demonstrate that the interventions such an entity is supposedly making in the world don’t actually happen.

Aha! But that isn’t what most actual believers would say. What I (and I think most other SH atheists) are particularly concerned to refute is the sort of personal god who is said to perform miracles, who is said to have beliefs about the ten commandments, birth control or abortion, about what religion is better than what other religion, or which prayers are important when, or which rituals are crucial and how to do them, etc. That is, we are concerned to refute the sort of beliefs about god that actually make a difference in peoples’ lives, and often for the worse.

So, you say this sort of god is an “easy target” ... perhaps so, for some of us, but I don’t take that as any sort of refutation of my position. Indeed, I take it as perhaps confirmation that you are more of an atheist than you let on!

:wink:

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]A deistic God is harder, and an Einsteinian/Spinoza God harder still, but these latter do have meaning to people.

Well ... not if they’re serious about it and really know what they mean by a deistic god, much less a spinozistic one.

The problem with deistic gods is that there are so many flavors it’s difficult to know where to start. Such a god is supposed to be some sort of “first mover” of the universe, who starts things off but then doesn’t intervene thereafter, but what else does it do? For instance, does it judge souls after death? No. Deistic gods really aren’t supposed to do anything other than kick off the universe. And then it’s really not at all clear why such a thing should mean anything to a believer. (Insofar as the believer is really being honest about it, and not doing an illicit elision with a theistic concept of god).

A deistic god shouldn’t respond to prayer, prefer one religion over another, judge the dead, or intervene for any reason at all. Indeed, it isn’t clear that a deistic god is a person at all—that is, a being with beliefs and desires. Insofar as a deistic god is a Platonic god, it’s basically just an abstracta. The number seven doesn’t really care very much what you do with your life, and you have to be a bit odd to care deeply about the number seven.

Spinoza’s god is no god at all, by pretty much universal agreement of his peers and followers. Spinoza was an atheist, and he used the word “god” to refer to the physical universe. OK, insofar as we want to misuse the term that way, I can go along with it as well as the next guy and say that I believe in god.

(Same with Sagan’s claim that god might be identical with the physical laws of the universe. OK, then I believe in god. But so what?)

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]If we want to accomodate the “religious” or “spiritual” impulses people have within humanism, and I think we would be wise to do so because they’re not going away, we can with pretty reasonable justification allow the possibility of these concepts of God, as well as others currently unimagined, though perhaps not unimaginable ones. That is all I mean by agnosticism ...

Well, you know that I am very happy to take onboard notions of “spirituality” (correctly understood as an awareness of the beauty and awesomeness of the universe) into humanist and scientific circles. That’s why I think so highly of Sagan, Druyan and Tyson. Insofar as these quasi-religious emotions are what you mean by “agnosticism”, I have no argument against it. Indeed, I am for it, but I would consider it part of the pleasure and enjoyment of the scientific enterprise of knowing. I don’t think it has any necessary connection to beliefs (or disbeliefs) about god or religion.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]But my quibbles with his strident tone about agnosticism (the references to Neville Chamberlain, the frequent use of the acronym PAP, etc) and his seeming contempt for either the intellect or the moral courage/integrity of those who don’t assert atheism as strongly as he does remain. Philosophically and tactically, I think these are mistakes.

Yes, I agree that Dawkins and Harris do sometimes go overboard with the rhetoric. Rhetoric is a delicate thing, and a particular phrase can be perfect in one context and not another. I do applaud them for pressing on agnosticism, for the very reason that I believe many agnostics really are atheists, and it would be better in the long run if they came out of the closet. But not all are, of course.

The other important feature of their rhetorical struggle is to make atheism into a more acceptable self-description. Only when atheism is shorn of its evil connotations will this particular battle have been won.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Aha! But that isn’t what most actual believers would say. What I (and I think most other SH atheists) are particularly concerned to refute is the sort of personal god who is said to perform miracles, who is said to have beliefs about the ten commandments, birth control or abortion, about what religion is better than what other religion, or which prayers are important when, or which rituals are crucial and how to do them, etc. That is, we are concerned to refute the sort of beliefs about god that actually make a difference in peoples’ lives, and often for the worse.

So, you say this sort of god is an “easy target” ... perhaps so, for some of us, but I don’t take that as any sort of refutation of my position. Indeed, I take it as perhaps confirmation that you are more of an atheist than you let on!

So far as this sort of god is concerned, I suppose I am an atheist (or at least an agnostic in only the most trivial and technical sense). The problem is whether that is the only kind of god worth calling “God,” of which I’m still not convinced.

Deistic gods really aren’t supposed to do anything other than kick off the universe. And then it’s really not at all clear why such a thing should mean anything to a believer. (Insofar as the believer is really being honest about it, and not doing an illicit elision with a theistic concept of god).

A deistic god shouldn’t respond to prayer, prefer one religion over another, judge the dead, or intervene for any reason at all. Indeed, it isn’t clear that a deistic god is a person at all—that is, a being with beliefs and desires. Insofar as a deistic god is a Platonic god, it’s basically just an abstracta.

A deistic god, as I see it, could be a creator with beliefs and desires (though this is still a way of saying with a mind like ours or comprehensible on our terms, which I still think a bit presumptuous. perhaps when/if we meet extraterrestrial intelligences radically different from us we may boraden our concepts in this regard), but since the entity does not communicate with us in any verifiable way, all I can say is I have little idea what those beliefs and desires might be. Still, if such an entity exists, it would be of great interest to me and have some implications for how I thought of the universe and my place in it. So I don’t see this kind of god as de facto meaningless in real life even though it doesn’t respond to me in the way a theistic god would.  Now how would I go about behaving with respect to such an entity if I could empirically ascertain nothing about it? Good question! Though never actively part of any religion, I still feel the periodic need to direct outwards strong feelings (gratitude, hopes, etc), and a deistic god who created everything and, presumably, knows what it’s all about is a more appealing focus for such an urge than the “laws of the universe.” If you don’t feel the same tendancy, all well and good, but I’m not convinced it’s a rare or especially harmful tendancy nor incompatible with a practical philosophy of materialism and scientific naturalism. In any case, deism and Spinoza-ism are a lot less important targets than theism, and their adherents are potentially allies in a pragmatic effort to diminish the deleterious effects of religion on society, so I think it’s a questionable choice to dismiss or excoriate folks with such leanings as Dawkins leans towards doing.

 

The other important feature of their rhetorical struggle is to make atheism into a more acceptable self-description. Only when atheism is shorn of its evil connotations will this particular battle have been won.

I agree. Unfortunately, intellectual arrogance is one of the negative attributes people attach to this term, and I’m just trying to ensure we don’t deserve it!  smile

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Posted: 12 February 2007 10:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]A deistic god, as I see it, could be a creator with beliefs and desires (though this is still a way of saying with a mind like ours or comprehensible on our terms, which I still think a bit presumptuous. perhaps when/if we meet extraterrestrial intelligences radically different from us we may boraden our concepts in this regard), but since the entity does not communicate with us in any verifiable way, all I can say is I have little idea what those beliefs and desires might be. Still, if such an entity exists, it would be of great interest to me and have some implications for how I thought of the universe and my place in it. So I don’t see this kind of god as de facto meaningless in real life even though it doesn’t respond to me in the way a theistic god would.  Now how would I go about behaving with respect to such an entity if I could empirically ascertain nothing about it? Good question! Though never actively part of any religion, I still feel the periodic need to direct outwards strong feelings (gratitude, hopes, etc), and a deistic god who created everything and, presumably, knows what it’s all about is a more appealing focus for such an urge than the “laws of the universe.” If you don’t feel the same tendancy, all well and good, but I’m not convinced it’s a rare or especially harmful tendancy nor incompatible with a practical philosophy of materialism and scientific naturalism.

I certainly will agree with you that there is the logical possibility that a deistic god with beliefs and desires exists. Sagan and others have also raised the possibility that a being exists who is nearly omnicompetent but not quite (not perfectly good, or not all knowing, or not all powerful). Or it could be that we live in a polytheistic world, with competing gods. All of these are logical possibilities, and perhaps modestly more probable than the standard omnicompetent god.

But they leave me totally cold. Once you drop the baggage of the theistic omnicompetent god, you drop any pretense that the creature under discussion is the sort of thing that should rule your life. It becomes a curiosity. If a deistic god created the universe, and it had beliefs and desires, what would it be thinking? There’s no way to even begin to know. You say that such a god “presumably, knows what it’s all about”, but why presume even that? Perhaps it created the universe on a whim, or by accident, or out of confusion. Perhaps it creates a gazillion universes each morning before breakfast, without a second thought for any of them. Perhaps and perhaps and perhaps. So, as a recipient for “strong feelings” of gratitude, hope, etc., this is a non-starter.

The problem is that we are led into a profitless cul-de-sac of conflicting possibilities.

So we go back to the initial hypothesis (the deistic god) and ask if it’s really doing any theoretical work for us. And it’s not. As Dawkins and others have explained, such a god does not explain the existence of the universe, at least not without begging its own questions. It falls to Occam’s Razor.

Insofar as we have certain metaphysical scruples and want to go Platonic, we can say that Plato’s Form of the Good has a certain theoretical role to play in ethics, and so forth ... but again, that’s not a personal god either.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]In any case, deism and Spinoza-ism are a lot less important targets than theism, and their adherents are potentially allies in a pragmatic effort to diminish the deleterious effects of religion on society, so I think it’s a questionable choice to dismiss or excoriate folks with such leanings as Dawkins leans towards doing.

Yes, well, Dawkins has his role to play, but he’s not the be-all and end-all of the movement. IMO his role is to attack the theistic sorts of religious belief on the one hand, and provide sorely needed backbone for cowed atheists on the other.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]Unfortunately, intellectual arrogance is one of the negative attributes people attach to this term, and I’m just trying to ensure we don’t deserve it!  smile

Dawkins is notoriously arrogant. That is perhaps his biggest fault. But I do bristle at the notion that an atheist’s opinion that god doesn’t exist is somehow any more arrogant than the theist’s opinion that he does. Not that you’ve claimed such a thing, but others certainly have.

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Posted: 12 February 2007 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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But I do bristle at the notion that an atheist’s opinion that god doesn’t exist is somehow any more arrogant than the theist’s opinion that he does. Not that you’ve claimed such a thing, but others certainly have.

And I certainly would not make such a claim either. As you’ve noted if you’ve followed any of my posts in the “critical look at secular humanism” thread, I’m quite skeptical of claims to absolute knowledge of any stripe.

I certainly will agree with you that there is the logical possibility that a deistic god with beliefs and desires exists. Sagan and others have also raised the possibility that a being exists who is nearly omnicompetent but not quite (not perfectly good, or not all knowing, or not all powerful). Or it could be that we live in a polytheistic world, with competing gods. All of these are logical possibilities, and perhaps modestly more probable than the standard omnicompetent god.

But they leave me totally cold. Once you drop the baggage of the theistic omnicompetent god, you drop any pretense that the creature under discussion is the sort of thing that should rule your life. It becomes a curiosity. If a deistic god created the universe, and it had beliefs and desires, what would it be thinking? There’s no way to even begin to know. You say that such a god “presumably, knows what it’s all about”, but why presume even that? Perhaps it created the universe on a whim, or by accident, or out of confusion. Perhaps it creates a gazillion universes each morning before breakfast, without a second thought for any of them. Perhaps and perhaps and perhaps. So, as a recipient for “strong feelings” of gratitude, hope, etc., this is a non-starter.

The problem is that we are led into a profitless cul-de-sac of conflicting possibilities.

So we go back to the initial hypothesis (the deistic god) and ask if it’s really doing any theoretical work for us. And it’s not. As Dawkins and others have explained, such a god does not explain the existence of the universe, at least not without begging its own questions. It falls to Occam’s Razor.

I’m generally in agreement that the deistic or Einsteinian god serve very little practical purpose in terms of science, ethics, politics, etc. I don’t “serve” these entities in any sense, and my daily life is lived very like that of an avowed atheist I’m sure. Still, the original point I was making was only that aggressive assertions about the impossibility, implausibility, or meaninglessness of these entities seem unjustified. Agnosticism does not have to be weak-kneed atheist, disingenuous or cowardly, and it is rationally defensible even if it leads to leaving open a hypothesis that you personally couldn’t care less about the truth of anyway. If the practical affect of our different choice of labels is negligible, I guess an amicable agreement to disagree is not a bad resolution.  :wink:

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Posted: 12 February 2007 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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But I do bristle at the notion that an atheist’s opinion that god doesn’t exist is somehow any more arrogant than the theist’s opinion that he does. Not that you’ve claimed such a thing, but others certainly have.

And I certainly would not make such a claim either. As you’ve noted if you’ve followed any of my posts in the “critical look at secular humanism” thread, I’m quite skeptical of claims to absolute knowledge of any stripe.

I certainly will agree with you that there is the logical possibility that a deistic god with beliefs and desires exists. Sagan and others have also raised the possibility that a being exists who is nearly omnicompetent but not quite (not perfectly good, or not all knowing, or not all powerful). Or it could be that we live in a polytheistic world, with competing gods. All of these are logical possibilities, and perhaps modestly more probable than the standard omnicompetent god.

But they leave me totally cold. Once you drop the baggage of the theistic omnicompetent god, you drop any pretense that the creature under discussion is the sort of thing that should rule your life. It becomes a curiosity. If a deistic god created the universe, and it had beliefs and desires, what would it be thinking? There’s no way to even begin to know. You say that such a god “presumably, knows what it’s all about”, but why presume even that? Perhaps it created the universe on a whim, or by accident, or out of confusion. Perhaps it creates a gazillion universes each morning before breakfast, without a second thought for any of them. Perhaps and perhaps and perhaps. So, as a recipient for “strong feelings” of gratitude, hope, etc., this is a non-starter.

The problem is that we are led into a profitless cul-de-sac of conflicting possibilities.

So we go back to the initial hypothesis (the deistic god) and ask if it’s really doing any theoretical work for us. And it’s not. As Dawkins and others have explained, such a god does not explain the existence of the universe, at least not without begging its own questions. It falls to Occam’s Razor.

I’m generally in agreement that the deistic or Einsteinian god serve very little practical purpose in terms of science, ethics, politics, etc. I don’t “serve” these entities in any sense, and my daily life is lived very like that of an avowed atheist I’m sure. Still, the original point I was making was only that aggressive assertions about the impossibility, implausibility, or meaninglessness of these entities seem unjustified. Agnosticism does not have to be weak-kneed atheist, disingenuous or cowardly, and it is rationally defensible even if it leads to leaving open a hypothesis that you personally couldn’t care less about the truth of anyway. If the practical affect of our different choice of labels is negligible, I guess an amicable agreement to disagree is not a bad resolution.  :wink:

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Posted: 14 February 2007 04:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]But I do bristle at the notion that an atheist’s opinion that god doesn’t exist is somehow any more arrogant than the theist’s opinion that he does. Not that you’ve claimed such a thing, but others certainly have.

Hear, hear!  They call us arrogant for merely suggesting God might not exist, then turn right around and claim that they KNOW, without a doubt, and we’d better believe it too or we’re in trouble.  That is probably the biggest thing about Christians which gets on my nerves.  Not so much their phony certainty, but the charge that we’re arrogant just because we don’t believe it.

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Posted: 14 February 2007 04:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”] As you’ve noted if you’ve followed any of my posts in the “critical look at secular humanism” thread, I’m quite skeptical of claims to absolute knowledge of any stripe.

As am I. I don’t claim “absolute knowledge” about god, or indeed about anything. Everything I say or believe is fallible. That said, I certainly believe that we have better evidence for some things rather than others. We have pretty darn good reason to believe that 12 + 4 = 16, and pretty darn good evidence that Darwinian evolution is responsible for the life we find on earth today.

It could all prove some sort of illusion. I wouldn’t bet on it, however ...

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]If the practical affect of our different choice of labels is negligible, I guess an amicable agreement to disagree is not a bad resolution.  :wink:

Sure. I am just concerned to clarify the positions.

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Posted: 26 February 2007 03:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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This is the latest turn which our discussion of Empiricism has taken:

Ok, I’ll give you the syllogism again, and ask how you would refute it.

1. Everything in nature is determined by its antecedent causes.
2. Your thoughts, ideas, ethical values, etc, are in nature.
C. Your thoughts, ideas, and ethical values are predetermined.

He claims that if our thoughts come from a “nonrational” nature, then they are just random electrical patterns, and can’t contain any meaning.  I keep trying to tell him that this is nothing more than the assumption he started with, that the universe has no meaning unless God created it, but he refuses to listen.

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